Michael Mahal and Sonny Mahal are two of the hardest-working and most prolific producers in independent horror. For the last seven years, the enterprising brothers have delivered over a dozen genre mashups through Mahal Empire Productions, their namesake home studio. With titles including Bus Party to Hell (2017), Night of the Tommyknockers (2022), Bermuda Island (2023), and more, their films explore all corners of horror.

They’ve got vampires, werewolves, cults, aliens, and demons. They explore the realms of torture, fine art, and killer games. The Mahal Empire has something for everyone, telling fast-paced, action-packed stories with quirky, empathetic characters, gnarly creatures, and lots of blood and guts. As a horror fan, these movies offer everything I hope for from a viewing experience. 

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How did the Mahal Brothers get their start?

Mahal Empire Productions Logo

After attending New York Film Academy in Hollywood, Michael started working as a producer for a variety of networks including ABC, CBS, and Fox. For a decade, he wrote, shot, edited, and directed commercials for local TV stations. While Michael focused on learning the craft, Sonny was developing his business chops. He took business courses and spent years running liquor stores and gas stations before starting to make movies with his brother.

While the Mahals have found success in their individual pursuits, it’s only been in the last decade that they’ve started enjoying the fruits of their collective film labor. Sonny’s business acumen and Michael’s media experience, along with their shared writing, networking, and fundraising talents, have fused into a well-oiled indie filmmaking machine.

How is the Mahal Empire so prolific?

It takes a village to get any movie made, and the Mahals’ success is the result of dedicated focus on developing brand consistency and permanence for their studio. In the early days, they wrote, directed, and produced their movies.

But after years of self-financing projects, the Mahal brothers discovered a knack for crowdfunding and have several dozen successful IndieGogo and Kickstarter campaigns under their belts. In fact, they’ve raised over $5 million through their crowdfunding efforts, which Sonny describes as “a full-time job”. As a result, they’ve turned their attention largely to producing and allowed frequent collaborators like Michael Su, Adam Werth, and Brandon Slagle to sit in the director and DP chairs.

They also discovered that it’s easier raising money for independent horror than almost any other genre. Why? Michael has one explanation: “Horror is a universal type of storytelling. If a movie is scary, it’s going to be scary everywhere.”

Night of the Tommyknockers (2022)

Night of the Tommyknockers review

Western horror is a little-explored subgenre, and most entries take a deadly serious approach to their subject matter (see Bone Tomahawk). Night of the Tommyknockers blasts this convention to smithereens. There’s plenty of Western drama, but the movie also has tons of humor, gore, and even elements of folk horror.

A ragtag group of outlaws plans their biggest hit yet–a nearby town has a huge stash of gold just waiting to be plucked. Little do these miscreants know that when the locals blasted their way to gold glory, they summoned ancient, deadly beings known as the Tommyknockers!

These creatures bear little resemblance to the ghosts of miners from which their legend originated; instead, they look more like the bat monsters from The Descent. And they’re just as vicious, rending limbs and ripping flesh in between tense Wild West gun battles and rollicking tumbleweed.

With the Tommyknockers out for blood, the outlaws must team up with the town locals to stay alive! But why not just get out of there and abandon the gold? Well, as one of the characters says: “Forget it, Julia. There’s no sense in trying to reason with greed.”

Bus Party to Hell (2017)

Bus Party to Hell Tara Reid horror movie Mahal Empire

The movie that started it all for The Mahal Empire, Bus Party to Hell has to be their sleaziest movie yet, which makes it my favorite!

An eclectic group of strangers boards a party bus on the way to Burning Man. There’s frat boy antics, booze, and a largely obnoxious bunch of partygoers. It’s the perfect setup for a Mad Max demonic sex cult to come in and commit slaughter in the high desert. The cult attacks the bus, and the survivors must fight for their lives, all while trying to figure out who amongst them is The Chosen One.

The cast is fully committed to this, especially Tara Reid, who gets attacked by mummies and a floating head in the movie’s opening scene. But Sadie Katz steals the show as the bored bus driver with a bit of a freaky side.

There’s blood, beasts, and lots of boobs, so perhaps we’ll have a Mahal Empire night on The Last Drive-In one of these days!

Bermuda Island (2023)

Bermuda Island horror movie review

Like many of the filmmakers I’ve spotlighted in this series, The Mahal Brothers tend to work with much of the same cast and crew throughout their movies. I’m a big fan of this repertory approach to filmmaking, since it allows a team’s camaraderie and creative energy to shine through; plus, it’s a delight to watch the cast take on different characters in wildly different movies.

In addition to frequent cast members like Sarah French, Wesley Cannon, Victor Gelsomino, Sheri Davis, John Wells, and Bill Victor Arucan, the brothers have also regularly worked with celebrities including Tom Sizemore, Michael Madsen, Eric Roberts, Costas Mandylor, and Tara Reid. Many of these folks show up in Bermuda Island, a sci-fi horror that’s like a blend of Lost and Predator.

A plane goes down in the Bermuda Triangle, leaving its survivors to fend for themselves on a mysterious island. But they’re not alone! Luckily, they meet a mysterious man who has been stranded on the island for much longer. Much, much longer. As the survivors split off into factions, they discover the island is populated with cannibalistic humanoid monsters, so they set about arming and training themselves for battle!

The monsters look like Lord of the Rings orcs (and I’m sure they smell like ‘em, too!). Arms go flying, blood is red, and no one is safe from these terrifying creatures. But there’s an even darker evil lurking on this island that our survivors are not prepared to face!

What’s next for the Mahal Empire?

Mahal Empire Horror Movies

The Mahal Empire is like a city that never sleeps. Most recently, they released another sci-fi horror flick called Arena Wars (2024), which I’ll be talking about over at The Bitter Wolf soon! But they also have five projects in various stages of completion: Devil’s Knight, Alien Horde, Cursed Waters, Alien Storm, and Bikers vs. Werewolves. Make sure you check out their work! I promise you’ll have a great time.

To learn more about Sonny and Michael Mahal and to check out their movies, visit The Mahal Empire’s website here.

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Images via CineMaterial and Sonny Mahal.

About the Author

Isaiah Swanson is a freelance writer from South Carolina. A movie buff from a young age, he enjoys writing about cinema, especially the horror genre. When he is not writing, he is traveling the country in his campervan with his Australian shepherd, Judy. You can find more of his work at Ned Hardy, The Game of Nerds, and The Bitter Wolf.

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